Wednesday, January 18, 2006
Cocoa Plantations the cornerstone of preserving biodiversity
Theobroma cacao, the cocoa plant, is a rather strange thing. The pods that produce cocoa beans grow on strange trees in the tropical and sub-tropical jungles of North and South America and have been successfully cultivated all over the middle of the planet since the discovery of the New World.
Like coffee, cocoa wants to grow in the shade. The cocoa trees are rather squat and unassuming looking and need the tall canopy of the larger trees. What this means to the jungle ecosystem is that a cocoa plantation looks suspiciously like a jungle ... tall trees, a good deal of leaf litter on the ground and of course a good variety of critters to keep the cocoa plants pollinated. Plant cocoa trees too close together and you’re asking for diseases and of course it exhausts the already weak soils of the rain forest so you’d be obliged to fertilize.
A properly balanced cocoa plantation can be relatively manageable with a good hands-off approach. Maintain the trees, control disease quickly by removing infested trees and you can have a sustainable crop that keeps the rain forest intact for generations to come. The tall hardwood trees of the canopy can be sustainably harvested as well and other fruit trees can be planted as well. Birds and beasts can thrive along with the jungle as a whole and the humans merely as caretakers. It’s a Utopian ideal, and with the help of Fair Trade and other small scale cooperative initiatives that support the future of the forests means we can have our chocolate cake and eat it, too.
There’s no reason that reasonably priced chocolate can’t be produced from cacao grown in a sustainable fashion that preserves the local ecosystem and the local people’s autonomy. In fact, the future of the tropical regions may depend on global demand for agricultural products like coffee and cocoa that can be grown this way. At the moment the solution is not to buy more chocolate but to make an effort to support those chocolate products that work with farmer co-ops, operate under Fair Trade policies and of course support sustainable agriculture.
You can read more about these projects and the theories behind sustainable cocoa plantations here:
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.